New year, new trials, new heart

Many blessings for the start of a new year, everyone! With January started and underway, I decided to flip through the devotional that my brother gave me for some inspiration and the January 9 passage spoke to me. The Bible passage reads, “When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you” (Is 43:2).

Why do I bring this up when, with the start of the year, we’re focused on starting fresh and anew, no troubles to be seen in our paths? Because the first of the year is like a retreat high. It’s like when we go on retreat and experience time away and come home feeling renewed and refreshed. We’re ready to take on the world and set goals and resolutions to do better, be better, accomplish more.

However, at some point, we come down off of that high. We are faced with new trials, new tribulations. Challenges arise and we’re suddenly knocked off of our game. We fall into familiar patterns of procrastination, our even more familiar feelings of dissatisfaction and unrest, and suddenly life becomes rote and automatic again. We’ve lost the ability to see each day in a new and dynamic way, as we do when we start the year off. We’ve lost sight of how we can conquer the greater challenges and achieve the more substantial goals we’ve set for ourselves because our burdens seem too much to bear on a daily basis.

When at first our thoughts were so positive — “I’m so ready to tackle my counseling courses” or “I’m going to get my exercise each day and I’m going to feel better about myself,” suddenly become, “How will I make it through this semester? How will I lose those final five pounds?” Like I’ve been saying, we get stuck in our old patterns. 

The purpose of me writing this way is not to bring you down at the start of this new year. It’s to share the remedy for when we find ourselves in this situation. 

The devotional I referenced earlier told a beautiful story of a woman who used to watch her grandfather carve violins, and as he did so, she was always afraid that he would break them because of the pressure exerted on the wood as it was being crafted. What a beautiful metaphor for our lives. How often do we feel pressure, feel as if we’re going to break? In fact, doesn’t it sometimes feel as if we could snap right in half? The pressure to find love or work on nurturing a relationship that is challenging, the pressure to graduate from college and ultimately be successful in our careers. The pressure to buy that house, to settle down, to raise a family. The pressure just to simply do the right thing in the face of adversity. 

The truth is, we’re not going to snap. We’re not even going to break. We might splinter, sure. We might feel as if we can’t handle even one more load upon us because our wood is too weak, too thin that it won’t be able to hold. But when it comes down to faith, we must put our trust in the idea that God won’t confront us with anything we cannot endure. He won’t allow us to be irreparable. No, the trials are what allow our hearts to grow and evolve. Yes, they may ache first. They may feel broken, battered, bruised, torn. But through these growing pains, we only come out stronger. For our path is not the path we’re on. And in the moment, it’s easy to be angry and to give up, not understanding why this other path for us is just so difficult or is causing us pain.

But in truth, if I don’t believe that there is some greater purpose to the difficult parts of life, to the questions and doubts I will face, then I would have a hard time waking up in the morning. If I don’t recognize that my life is a work in progress, hard times included, then I won’t ever be able to value the new trials as a contributing factor to my new heart. This new heart that I am provided the opportunity to nurture every day is a gift you, too, are given. 

I encourage you to do the same this new year, and to know that you’re made of stronger stuff than you think!

Anchor columnist Renee Bernier graduated from Stonehill College and is a graduate student in the College Student Personnel Program at James Madison University in Harrison, Va.

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